Rick Barnes and several of his players were on the podium after Michigan’s upset win over the Vols on Saturday night.
COACH BARNES: Congratulations to Michigan. It was a hard-fought game. They made plays that put them in the position to win the game. That being said, I wouldn’t — this group of guys has been a special group, and how far we have come, starting the year with seven freshmen and how they have meshed together, this has been a special group for us.
And really hard when you lose, whether you use first round or in the Final Four. It’s hard because it puts an end to your season.
All I can say is how proud I am of our team and how hard they have worked all year long to get where we are. I’m disappointed for them because, again, I love the work and what they’ve put into this program this year.
I won’t ever take for granted being in this tournament. There are people that never get a chance to do it, and the fact that they worked hard and had a chance to play this time of year is special. And I appreciate this team so much.
Q. I know you guys had much larger expectations than getting bounced in the second round. How tough is it to end your season like this?
JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: It’s really tough. We know that we had bigger expectations, but credit to Michigan. They played better basketball for forty minutes. I think you can’t — everybody in that locker room deserves to put their head high for what we were able to do this season.
It definitely hurts. It’s not a good feeling being up here right now on the losing end. You’ve just got to grow from it, is how you respond to losses.
I’m going to miss being around this group of guys for sure.
Q. It seemed like the switch to zone was a big deal for them. Kennedy was getting to the rim a lot. How important was that, and what did you guys see in some of those later possessions?
KENNEDY CHANDLER: Even though they were going zone, we kept running our offense and attacking the zone and tried to apply pressure on the defense, find the open gap in the zone. It was just kind of a war zone, honestly, but Coach was telling us to run our normal offense and keep attacking them.
Q. Kennedy, have you given any thought to your future and what’s next for you?
JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: With all due respect, he won’t be answering any questions about his future today.
Q. Kennedy, you were emotional after the game. What encouraging words did Coach Howard say to you when you embraced?
KENNEDY CHANDLER: He said to keep my head up. It’s tough for me, and he knew I wanted to get the win. I know him. I’ve played with his son since, like, 4th grade. So I know him for a long time.
He’s a great coach. I love him. He told me to keep my head up and you played your heart out, that’s what he told me.
Q. Josiah, two days removed from how well you shot the ball against Longwood, hard to stomach, not being able to find the bottom of the net there toward the end?
JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: Yeah, I mean, it’s tough. We shot the shots that we practiced. Today just for forty minutes they didn’t go in. Credit to Michigan, they played pretty good defense. But I feel like today just wasn’t our day shooting the ball. But give a lot of credit to Michigan.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. We will take a few questions for Coach.
Q. Coach, so much orange here following you. What do you say to the fans that have supported you and your team that came up here and followed you and just great team support all season?
COACH BARNES: I would say what I learned seven years ago when I came to Knoxville and early in the season playing in a non-league game, playing an in-state team that — Christmas Eve and they had to move the game because of some Bowl, something to do with the SEC football at that time, and we had 16,000 people in the stands, and since that time I realized what I didn’t know growing up two and a half, three hours from Knoxville, the love that Tennessee people have for our great state and for our university.
It’s special. I talk about it — I don’t care what fan base is out there, there is none better than what we have, I don’t care.
I think this university deserves a chance to continue to have success and let people see exactly what makes special. It’s been a blessing for me, quite honestly. And seven years ago I wasn’t sure about a lot of things, but looking back, I think God had a great plan for me. And I’m telling you, I’ve loved every minute of it.
Q. Rick, seemed like for a large portion of this game that Michigan really kind of controlled the tempo and the style of play. Was that the case? Seemed like it had been a long time since that happened. Why do you think your guys didn’t handle that?
COACH BARNES: You know, I don’t know they controlled the tempo. They got tired. We knew it, and we kept trying to push the tempo. Like someone asked about a zone, we were glad when they went zone because we knew they weren’t going to stay in it. That was not a factor. We knew if we drove it a couple times, they would switch man to man.
What we weren’t able to do was take advantage of it early inside because sometimes you end up with mismatches there.
The difference in the game was the second-chance points. Those two offensive rebounds we gave up were huge at the time. And during that stretch, we had — and, again, we knew — everybody we played all year has been concerned about the three-point line. But we missed three, four looks that we would like — I don’t think we could have got it better, but some days it goes, some days they don’t.
But if you would have told me looking at the stat sheet that we were going to turn them over 15 times, 16 times, we only had 7, points in the paint, we outscored them. I would have never thought that.
But the second — fast break points, 19 to 5, bench points, 18 to 11, second chance points 13 to 7, and those two big offensive rebounds came after we got them to take two pretty difficult shots.
That’s it. We didn’t — Kennedy did a great job. They really didn’t have an answer for him with his speed going downhill, and we knew we could get him in some ball screens at times.
But we needed to have more inside today. I would have liked to seen us do a little bit more inside and put more pressure on Hunter Dickinson. We knew we were going to do that with ball screen offense. We knew we were going to make him guard.
But give them credit. They made the plays there at the end, and those two offensive rebounds were huge plays in the game.
Q. Coach, I know you outscored them in the paint, but you got so much of that from your guards. And I know you’re not reflecting yet, but when you look at this team, have you been concerned about the lack of reliable post scoring all season?
COACH BARNES: Yes, because I think in college you have to have somebody, and regardless of size you have to have somebody that can go in when you have days like this, when you can’t seem to find the bottom of the bucket. You’ve got to be able to throw it in there and get fouled, put pressure on people.
I’m also proud of the way — today, again, at times we had a lot of freshmen out there. New experience for — I think we only had three guys that have been in a NCAA Tournament game, but Jonas, Brandon, those guys, Uros has gotten better, Fulky has been with us a long time.
But at the collegiate level, you have to have presence around the rim. And we haven’t been able to do that consistently. It came mostly from our guards penetrating and playing in that area.
Q. Rick, I know every team and every season is different, but is it frustrating to win the tournament being in a good position and not be able to get past this first weekend again?
COACH BARNES: It’s very frustrating, but I will tell you this, and I’m really frustrated — I’ve been blessed to be here a bunch, and some teams got here that probably people didn’t think would get here, and some teams we expected to get here and didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.
But I can tell you from experience whether you lose on the first day, the second day, like we did today, or you lose in the semifinals, it’s the same feeling.
People can say whatever they want to say about — you don’t every take getting here for granted. I mean, it is so hard to get here.
Especially when you play in a league that’s very, very competitive. I think most leagues are, I do. I think most leagues are really competitive.
So you don’t take that for granted, but is it frustrating? Yeah. I’ve been frustrated a lot in my career, but I’m also very thankful that I’ve been able to be here.
One of our coaches said in a locker room he played for four years at a terrific program and never got to taste this. Like I told our guys, in life you don’t always get what you want when you want it; but the fact is, you’ve got to get in the arena and fight for it. You’re going to lose some, you are, but the key is you try to get back up and go again.
And we’re going to do that. These guys learned a lot about a lot of different things this year. And it hurts. If you were in our locker room, you would have known this was a very special group of young men in the way their emotions let out and — but it hurts, it does, and if it didn’t, it would be time to quit.
Q. Coach, talk about how hard it is to guard Hunter Dickinson when he’s shooting the way he did today. That’s been up and down for him.
COACH BARNES: We were glad he was shooting it from out there. We would have let him have all he wanted, we really did, because we — around the rim. But when he hurt us the most was when they did exactly what we thought they would do coming out of halftime, they would try to establish them on the block there. And, again, we knew that.
And, again, did we think you we could shut him out? We didn’t, because — but we also — we had two stops there where we couldn’t rebound the ball, and that was a really pivotal time for us. He’s a hard player to guard. And two years in a row we have gone up against the big, burly post players that’s hurt us.
Again, I thought Uros played as hard as he could today. I thought he battled there, and John. I thought our post guys really did. But we had three — two freshmen that haven’t played a lot until this year, and they started doing it more lately. And John has been around. But that’s a tough match-up for him. And Uros battled as hard as he could.
Q. How much different do you think this one is if one of the shots falls?
COACH BARNES: You think about it, we got a great look at the end of the half, great execution. Santi had one in the corner, Zakai had one, Josiah — we had — and again, they did a good job. I don’t want to take anything away from Michigan, they did. Santi came over and said to me, Coach, they’re not guarding me nearly as hard as I’ve been guarded, because most teams try to work to take him out.
But they’re a good basketball team. You’re playing this time of year, you’re a good basketball team. And they’re good.
I thought their guard play was really good. And certainly they have a post player that’s unique, and he does a lot of good things. He’s a hard guy to — if you would like to double him, he passes the ball well. He knows where he wants the ball. They do a good job of knowing where they want to get him the ball.
Early in the game we did not do a good job with our ball screen defense. We knew they were going to come out and try to negate our pressure on defense, and they chose to do that with trying to split our double teams, which they did.
Then we switched a little bit here, came out second half, doubled, tried to keep them off balance there. But I thought their guards did an overall good job of getting down the lane with it.
Again, in a game like this it’s a possession game. You expect that to happen. It goes down, like I said, two huge possessions were those offensive rebounds — were huge possessions, and I would have loved to see some of those — I mean, the shots that we shot, but that’s part of it.
Q. Rick, I know Kennedy didn’t want to talk about his future, but how do you view his development over the course of the season and his readiness to possibly go at this point?
COACH BARNES: Well, where we are today in college basketball, you can sit here and ask any player on the team that — with what — every player on the team is going to have a choice, if they want to, with the transfer portal being what it is, going overseas to play. I can come up with a lot of different things. But in terms of Kennedy he came in. He is just a great kid, a teammate.
He never, ever made it about him. I don’t think he ever walked in acting like I’m a one and done player. I don’t think that at all. He came in wanting to win. I think if you would — you probably saw his emotion. It was much more than that in the locker room, because this is a group of guys that are extremely close. They really have bonded in a way that doesn’t often happen anymore. But he got so much better, and I think so much of that had to do with his teammates.
I think that Zakai and Santi had a lot to do with it. The competition they played with every day in practice and then, you know, he was willing to listen early in the year. I told him early I thought he had some success — I go back to the Villanova game, I knew that he was a guy that really wanted to be good because he was locked in for that game and got just two really poor calls the first three, four minutes of that game that changed that game for us, where he was called for a charge and a block which he really — I mean, it was a tough — two tough plays for him, and then he came back and against Colorado he played great. I told him, I think you think it’s going to be this easy every night, and it’s not going to be this easy, and you have to be willing to know that you’ve got to grow.
You’ve got to grow; not just offensively. You’re going to have to learn to guard the basketball and learn how to guard ball screen coverage and all that, and it took him a little bit longer from that angle, but once he decided to — and, again, locked into it, he did. He started working at it. But I go back I think Santi and Zakai and Josiah had a lot to do with him growing the way he did.